When the NoCo Triple Threat Basketball club launched in 2016, it featured one girls hoops team with athletes from around this immediate area.
The club’s program director, and one of its coaches, Todd Matkin helped launch the program with the hope it could provide a small group of young, local athletes the chance to hone their budding skills, while also giving them the exposure and connections needed to get ready for the high school season and ultimately play in college.
While that core philosophy hasn’t changed in the past four years, just about everything else about the club has.
The club now — which mostly features middle school kids up to juniors in high school — has four girls teams and six boys teams, with about 10 players on each team.
The club is now known nationally as Rockies Triple Threat Basketball, recently joining The BlueStar Basketball League — a longstanding national evaluation and college showcase network for women’s basketball.
Being part of BlueStar Basketball allows Triple Threat to partake in high-profile tournaments throughout the country, giving the club a higher level of collegiate exposure for its teams that now consist of players from all throughout northeastern Colorado, as well as parts of Nebraska and Wyoming.
In short, Triple Threat Basketball has ascended to a level Matkin really couldn’t have envisioned it could ever attain — much less in four short, but eventful, years.
“The growing has been really organic,” said Matkin, who began his teaching and coaching career years ago at Highland High School. “The goal has always been to field as competitive a team as possible but, really, with the vision of it being as affordable as possible for kids. … We started playing locally a lot and had a lot of success. Eventually, we got to the point where now the kids want to be seen a little bit.”
Matkin was raised by a single mother who worked two jobs. He knows how large a role income can play in determining the access young athletes have to quality athletic programs — particularly at the club level.
With that in mind, Matkin and all of the other nearly 20 Triple Threat coaches volunteer their time. They don’t collect a dime.
As a result, Triple Threat is able to keep its club dues well below that of your typical club. While Triple Threat normally charges between $700-$900 for year-round basketball, spanning three seasons, other clubs may charge a thousand or more for each individual season.
The low costs are just one of the ways Triple Threat seemingly doesn’t take itself too seriously, while still providing serious tutelage to its players.
Club sports can often feature the most high-pressure environments found in youth sports, as teenagers feverishly work to showcase their individual skills to potential college suitors.
But, according to 15-year-old Windsor High School sophomore Sam Darnell, one of the reasons for Triple Threat’s rapid growth and rising popularity is the club’s knack for keeping the game of basketball fun.
Of course, the club offers the type of training, competition and exposure needed for any club to build a resume of success. But the volunteer coaches have created an environment much like that found within school programs, in which camaraderie and cohesion on and off the court is just as important as each player’s individual progress.
“With some clubs, the players may be all new to each other and there could be selfishness because the players don’t know each other as well and they might not play as together,” said Darnell, who has been with Triple Threat for four years, since its early days. “But the support from each other (on Triple Threat) is really good. All of our teammates always contact each other and check in on each other.”
Still, Triple Threat doesn’t skimp on helping players work on their individual skill set.
Platte Valley junior Brooke Bunting, 17, began playing for Triple Threat this past summer. In her two seasons with the club, she said she’s noticed the club’s coaching structure — with two coaches per 10-player team — has allowed her and the other players to receive all the individual attention they need to fine-tune for their high school seasons and ultimately ready themselves for college.
“This club focuses more on individual skill work — not only on improving team culture but also just making kids individually better so they can pursue their dreams of college or any future basketball career,” Bunting said. “It definitely gives us that exposure that we all need. And it’s definitely given us a hand up on some of the athletes that haven’t been able to play right now.”
University High School sophomore Miranda Wiedeman, 15, has played with Triple Threat since she was in sixth grade, when the club was just starting.
Though every club is going to have some turnover, particularly as players move on to college, Wiedeman said Triple Threat has a knack for drawing young players back year after year as their preferred club during their formative years on the hardwood.
That stability within the club has created a more personal environment than what one might typically experience with other clubs.
“We’re all like a family, we’re all really close and we’re all good friends,” Wiedeman said. “It’s nice to know you have someone there for you when you’re here (on the court) but also when you leave. … Club (play) is a lot of times more of a business. But I feel this is a lot more of a family.”
For the dozens of Triple Threat Basketball players, this club has been an important part of their athletic lives this year more than most other years.
With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the athletic seasons of many young athletes this past spring and summer on into this school year, players like Bree Bunting — Brooke’s younger sister — have found themselves more grateful than ever for a local club with low costs and quality coaching to allow them to continue to stay involved with a sport they are passionate about playing.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment decided earlier this month the high school basketball season will be pushed back indefinitely, after already being pushed back a month from its usual early-December start time. The Colorado High School Activities Association is proposing the season now start Feb. 1, though an actual start date is yet to be approved by the CDPHE.
This would normally be the time of year where Triple Threat would take a break to make way for each player’s school season.
Without a club like Triple Threat, Bree said she and her other fellow athletes within the program would be sitting at home, waiting for months for a season that may or may not ever materialized. They would be losing valuable opportunities to hone their skills during a key development age and missing out on the chance to play the game they love.
Bree describes the practices and road trips to tournaments with her Triple Threat teammates as a type of mental reprieve from all the stresses of the pandemic.
“This team has kind of become my safe place — somewhere I can always come, expect to work hard and just have fun,” said Bree, a Platte Valley sophomore, who has been with Triple Threat for 2 1/2 years. “It’s been super helpful, because we’ve been focusing a lot on skill work. So, I feel like I have improved so much being able to compete with (Triple Threat) all year long.”
Bobby Fernandez covers high school sports for the Greeley Tribune. Reach him at (970) 392-4478, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @BobbyDFernandez.